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**Phoning a Dead Man

by Gillian Cross

Reviewed April 8, 2003.
Holiday House, New York, 2002.  Originally published in Great Britain, 2001.  252 pages.

I like the idea of a thriller for teens.  Why not?  They don’t need to be sexy, only suspenseful, maybe with the body count a little lower than recent adult thrillers.  Once I read one, I wondered why more writers for teens don’t take it on.

Phoning a Dead Man was a well-written, suspenseful thriller.  It was even set in Siberia, giving us some traditional Russian bad guys.  This time the bad guys were the Russian mafiya rather than Communists, but they were still convincingly sinister.

The book opens as Hayley’s parents are burning her older brother John’s things.  He had gone to Siberia to do a demolition job, but only his ashes came back.  His fiancé, Annie Glasgow, contacts Hayley.  She has information about the death that doesn’t add up.  She wants to go to place where he died and see for herself.  The only problem is that Annie is stuck in a wheelchair and needs someone to travel with her.  She convinces Hayley to come along.

Between chapters about Hayley and Ashley, we’re told about a strange man who’s turned up in the Siberian forest.  He has tick fever and can’t remember who he is or why he’s there.  He does know that someone’s after him.

This is a good book and worth checking out from a library if you can find it.  The suspense is handled well, feeding us information a little at a time, keeping us guessing.  I would have enjoyed it more if I had found the characters a little more likable.  Annie is brittle and demanding, if determined, and we don’t really see why anyone would want to marry her.  We do feel sorry for Hayley having to deal with her brother dead, her parents grief-stricken and Annie demanding.  However, we don’t really know more about Hayley or strongly identify with her.  Still, the book was good enough that I’m going to keep my eyes open for more books by Gillian Cross to get for the library. 

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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